The Early Lead: How Greene County reversed their fortune and transformed it into a home playoff game
By BRANDON HURLEY
All Greene County needed was a little time.
Patience truly does breed success. Championships don’t come naturally. Any great dynasty needs practice and an ability to visualize the future.
The 2020 Ram football team is the epitome of patience and improvement.
After a disheartening beginning to the fall, stumbling to a 1-2 record, the Rams faced a daunting crossroads with just four weeks left. They stared down a possible regression to the mean after back-to-back eight win seasons. They could’ve packed it in, chocking the 2020 slate up as a rebuilding campaign, using the final month as a tool for learning and development.
Instead, the relatively inexperienced Greene County squad persevered and became greater. A four-game winning streak is the crowning achievement for an unusual regular season, as the Rams stride into postseason play with a 5-2 record, amped to host a playoff game for the first time in more than a decade.
The triumphant turnaround wasn’t textbook by any means, but in its own right, Greene County’s resurgence was a masterclass in growth.
Initially, The Rams struggled to forge out an identity on either side of the ball. The results were trended downward, leaving GCHS at a pivotal point of mediocrity. The Jefferson squad was out-scored 65-25 in back-to-back losses in early September, albeit against their two toughest opponents. Both South Central Calhoun (6-1) and Atlantic (6-1) combined to go 12-2 this fall. A lesser squad could have caved, looking ahead to next year, but they studied the film, meticulously analyzing what went wrong in those frustrating defeats. The Rams refused to let their early struggles deter their grand vision. It was time to for a change.
The young athletes adapted rather smoothly, as did the coaching staff. They each became more familiar with their roles and learned how to battle together. The Rams entered the season with a tall task at hand, forced to replace the school’s all-time leading rusher, passer and receiver in a hurry. Though, in reality, the new-look Rams would need some time to come into their own. Three weeks into the new era, Greene County maneuvered away from their usual, quick strike, spread offense and sprinkled in a vintage scheme, closer in similarity to the classic ways of GCHS Hall of Famer Bill Kibby than today’s usual run-and-gun style. They went heavy on the run, with jumbo, triple back sets and read-option looks. They’ve still maintained a bit of that, spread-it-out, five-wide receiver base as well, unveiling it on occasion, allowing the Rams to keep their opponents off-balance.
The athletes embraced the change. First-year quarterback Bryce Stalder quickly evolved into one of the most unstoppable athletes in all of 2A, finishing out the 2020 slate with a flurry of spectacular performances. He recovered from the struggles from an early learning curve as a first-time varsity signal-caller to lead Class 2A, District 9 in four different categories while finishing second in a number of others.
Stalder and the Ram coaching staff, after trying to kick-start the passing game without much success, eventually learned to embrace the junior’s ability to extend plays with his legs, which in turn has opened up the pass game. Stalder ran for 359 yards and seven touchdowns over the final three weeks of the regular season, all three of which were wins. An average of 120 yards rushing and two-and-a-half trips to the end zone from your quarterback is a pretty nice luxury to have. The Rams ran for a league-leading 1,258 yards and 19 touchdowns this fall. They kicked it into especially high gear during their four-game sprint to the finish, tallying 991 yards and 14 touchdowns along that span.
The overall rejuvenation defensively has been equally as impressive as Greene County’s offensive exploits. The Rams looked doomed after their back-to-back losses, surrendering more than 60 points and 484 rushing yards. They regrouped, making a concerted effort to slow the run. The defense strengthened with each passing week, blossoming from a unit which gave up 30-points in back-to-back games to a front that has not allowed more than 15 offensive points in a single game during their entire four-game streak.
Greene County head coach Caden Duncan attributes the recent success to not only an increase in knowledge, but also possessing the skill to seek out the ball carrier before the entire play unfolds.
“We are just being a lot more aggressive and guys are focusing on doing their jobs to the best of their ability,” the coach said. “Our discipline has improved greatly since the beginning of the season.”
The Rams have outscored their opponents, 141-54 during their season-ending streak, earning the right to host a home playoff game, a rarity in the Greene County era. The Rams increased their ball-hawking abilities as well, forcing seven total turnovers the final three weeks, including six interceptions.
No single team has managed to score more than 19 points since Atlantic scored 31 all the way back in week three. In fact, only two of Greene County’s seven opponents scored more than 20 points in a single game this season. The Rams are allowing a respectable 17 points per game, including a season-best 13.5 points per game during their four-game hot streak. GCHS held Shenandoah to 195 total yards and one single touchdown while forcing three turnovers during their season finale victory.
The overall transformation was staggering, but nothing Duncan didn’t expect. He trusted his athletes to improve along the way, setting the table for a thrilling finish.
“The resiliency and desire to improve each week from both the coaching staff and players (is why we keep winning),” Duncan said. “We’ve made adjustments to do some things that we haven’t done much of in the past and the guys have been doing a great job adapting to each situation and are improving each week.”
The Rams’ win streak helped them achieve rather significant history this fall by securing their third straight winning season for the only time in the last 13 years (the Quikstats.com era), having tallied a marvelous 22-6 record over that span. The Rams never even once tallied back-to-back winning at any point since 2007 until they did so last fall. It’s been one heck of a streak for a school district starving for sustained, on-field success.
I had my doubts, as I’m sure a few others did as well. I was unsure whether this new crop of Rams could somehow follow up one of the most successful runs in school history. There were a number of question marks all over the field, aided by a large sum of players who had rarely seen varsity action before. But Greene County silenced this doubter, finishing the year on one heck of a heater, riding high with confidence in a winnable playoff pod.
Resiliency is the perfect recipe for a quality team, and Greene County certainly possesses that. With a favorable playoff draw, the Rams could certainly make some noise.